Short Horns, Jerseys, Herefords and more breeds were on display this weekend at the Spring Meadow Farm 4-H field day. The event is an annual practice run for show steers and their 4-H handlers, in preparation for the county fair season.
Thanks to a lucky relationship, we were invited to come watch, and even got a chance to try our own hand at driving some baby cattle with a yoke (the wood rack that goes over their shoulders)! This was an excellent learning experience, and a wonderful introduction to 4-H. Neither the Homestead Husband nor I participated in 4-H growing up, but we seriously wish they had a super seniors group so we could join!
^learning how to use the show stick (goes by various names) to direct the cows with vocal cues as well, for left and right turns.
The teamsters participating in 4-H work hard, and have fun while they do it. Every year, they take on what is called a new "project" and work on it to present during show season (summer - fall). The projects are displayed at places like the Fryeburg Fair (where we got hitched!), the Big E!, or Common Ground Fair (and many more).
4-H projects can range from livestock to baking, hand-made items, and more, but there are particular sectors of 4-H for livestock specific ventures. We spent the afternoon on Sunday with the Cumberland County Working Steer 4-H group! Kids from 9 - 18 were there, with their families and cows. After going over their records and having a group meeting, including a cook-out lunch, the group geared up the cows and worked them through obstacle courses, and trained all together.
What is the tradition of working steers?
Show steers must be a male pair, close in appearance and size. They can be any breed, so it is not limited to only dairy or beef cattle.
The pairs are raised to work - they are used to clear fields, plow, and haul carts with loads on them (companies up Maine use them for logging!). The project usually ends for the teamster when the cattle are purchased at the fair for work after they have been shown to the judges and prizes have been awarded. 4-H participants that place can win cash prizes, which is a great way for kids to earn savings.
Cattle were used more frequently in the pioneer days to travel cross-country than horses were, contrary to the depiction seen in most films. Cattle are able to handle terrain better with the du-claw hooves compared to that of the single horse hoof. Both have their place, but the importance of working steer shouldn't be ignored. Our country was built using these animals, and they have definitely earned our respect.
While we have a lot to learn about cows, spending time around them and being able to ask questions was so much fun, and helpful. Anytime you're interested in diving into a particular livestock, I'd highly recommend visiting someone who has some - they are generally more than happy to show them off, and it's exciting to share the passion!
Our Homestead Honey may just have her own pair in the future!